Ringo Starr is 80 today. When he was six years old he contracted peritonitis and he spent a year recovering in hospital. When he was thirteen years old he contracted tuberculosis and he spent two years recovering in a sanitorium. Despite John Lennon claiming to be a “working class hero”, Ringo Starr was the only working class member of The Beatles.
I was too young to appreciate the musicianship of The Beatles at the time that I bought the records. I loved the melodies, the lyrics and the weird sounds. It was only later that I truly appreciated Ringo Starr’s drumming. “Rain”, “She Said She Said”, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, “A Day In The Life” and “I Am The Walrus” are among my favourite Beatles tracks and it’s probably no coincidence that they contain some of Ringo’s best drumming. The remixed “Abbey Road” is also a showcase for his brilliance.
However, I liked most of Ringo’s songs on Beatles records. Truth be told, there were very few songs I didn’t like. “Hold Me Tight”, “Here There And Everywhere” and “I Will” – no! Everything else – yes! It was always funny that a song by a girl group (The Shirelles) worshipping “Boys” became a show stopper for Ringo – Pete Best had sung it before he was sacked. The way that Ringo sung it didn’t make any sense – “My girl says when I kiss her lips” but then “I’m talking about boys”. However, it was a dynamic performance. “I Wanna Be Your Man” was also a great rocker although The Stones version was probably better. “Honey Don’t”, a Carl Perkins song, was standard and enhanced by Ringo’s exhortations to George Harrison to play a guitar solo “Oh rock on George, one more time for me!” My favourite Ringo song is “Act Naturally”, written by Buck Owens. I just love the sentiments. “They’ll make a film about a man that’s sad and lonely and all I’ve got to do is act naturally.” It also contained a classic case of misheard lyrics – when he sings “I’ll play my part and I won’t need rehearsing”, I always thought it was “I’ll play my part and I won’t need my hair thinned.” I liked “What Goes On” and wondered for years exactly what it was that Ringo had contributed towards the writing of the song as, uniquely, it’s credited to Lennon-McCartney-Starr. Subsequently, Ringo joked that he contributed “about five words”. “Yellow Submarine” is of course, brilliant. To a 12 year old anyway – all those great special effects – “full speed ahead sir!” “With A Little Help From My Friends” was always great because of the line “I can’t tell you but I know that it’s mine” which certainly appealed to a 12 year old schoolboy’s smutty sense of humour. I can’t say I especially liked “Don’t Pass Me By” but the fiddle playing was great. “Goodnight” was always a blessed relief after “Revolution 9”. “Octopus’ Garden” was always a bit naff until I heard the version on “Love” with the slow start, which I really like.
Once The Beatles split up, Ringo released two albums in 1970. “Sentimental Journey” was an album of standards which he knew his mother would like. “Beaucoups Of Blues” was, surprisingly, full of country and western songs. It was another three years before he released “Ringo” which is a more standard Seventies rock album.
Listening to this album again, the sound is very typical for Seventies AOR. That’s not meant as an insult. It got to Number 7 in the UK and Number 2 in the USA. The incredible thing about this album is the musicians that play on it.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr all play on the album, although not all on the same song.
John Lennon wrote “I’m The Greatest”, Paul and Linda McCartney co-wrote “Six O’Clock” and George Harrison wrote “Photograph” with Ringo and “You And Me (Babe) with Mal Evans, the Beatles’ roadie.
Klaus Voorman plays bass on every song on this album. He was a friend of The Beatles from Hamburg, a member of Manfred Mann, he designed the cover of “Revolver” and he played on a number of John Lennon solo albums.
Billy Preston plays on two songs – he played with The Beatles in their rooftop concert.
Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson play on the album – that’s four out of five members of The Band.
Marc Bolan plays guitar on “Have You Seen My Baby” which was written by Randy Newman.
Other people who play on this album include Steve Cropper (Booker T and the MGs), Tom Scott (L.A. Express (Joni Mitchell’s backing band for several albums)), Martha Reeves (Martha and The Vandellas), Jim Keltner (too many credits to summarise easily), Bobby Keys and Nicky Hopkins (they played on many Rolling Stones albums).
I guess the fact that Ringo Starr is clearly such a nice guy is demonstrated by the incredible range of musicians that he got to play on this album. It’s a hugely enjoyable listen.
I always try to end these posts by writing something pithy but words fail me when thinking about the joy that Ringo Starr has brought to the human race.